Everyone knows of the nation’s crown jewels—America’s national parks. We celebrate them this year in 2016,the centennial year of the founding of the National Park Service. Just three years ago we were frustrated at their closure because of a government shut-down.
Few of us–hikers or not–realize that America boasts a dozen more national lands, some under the stewardship of the National Park Service and others under the jurisdiction of other federal land use agencies. Here’s a quick reference guide for the hiker.
National Conservation Area: Similar to National Monument status; applies solely to BLM lands. Granted only by Congress. Individual site determines allowable recreational activities.
National Forest or Grassland Land managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and may allow a wide variety of activities including logging, mining, and oil and gas drilling, as well as trail activities, hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, and OHV use.
National Historic Trail (NHT) Federally designated extended trails, which closely follow original routes of nationally significant travel (explorers, emigrants, traders, military, etc.). NHTs do not have to be continuous, can be less than 100 miles in length, and can include land and water segments. The Iditarod, the Lewis and Clark, the Mormon Pioneer, and the Oregon trails were the first to be designated as NHTs in 1978.
National Monument Federal areas of unique ecological, geological, historic, prehistoric, cultural, or scientific interest. Traditionally used for historic structures or landmarks on government land; more recently used to grant national park-like status to tracts of western land. Designated by Congress or the president. Individual site determines allowable recreational activities.
National Park Managed by the National Park Service primarily to protect resources and recreation opportunities. Some allow grazing, but do not allow hunting, mining, or other extractive uses.
National Preserve Often linked with a national park. Allows mineral and fuel extraction, hunting, and trapping.
National Recreation Area Federal areas that have outstanding combinations of outdoor recreation opportunities, aesthetic attractions, and proximity to potential users. They may also have cultural, historical, archaeological, pastoral, wilderness, scientific, wildlife, and other values contributing to public enjoyment. Designated by Congress. Individual location determines allowable recreational activities.
National Recreation Trail (NRT) Existing trails that provide a variety of outdoor recreation uses in or reasonably accessible to urban areas (over 800) recognized by the federal government (Secretary of Interior or Secretary of Agriculture, not Congressional action) as contributing to the National Trails System.
National Resource Land Managed for grazing and extraction by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM); often unnamed. Allows all recreational activities.
National Scenic Area Area that contains outstanding scenic characteristics, recreational values, and geological, ecological, and cultural resources.
National Scenic Trail (NST) Federally designated extended trails (over 100 miles in length), which provide for the maximum outdoor recreation potential and for the conservation and enjoyment of the significant scenic, historic, natural, or cultural qualities of the areas through which they pass. The Appalachian and the Pacific Crest trails were the first to be designated as National Scenic Trails in 1968.
National Seashore Coastal equivalent of a national park. Some allow hunting.
National Wildlife Refuge Preserves wildlife habitat. Allows hunting and fishing; some allow overnight camping.